How the Basic Kayaking Course Opened a New World

Hear from Super Volunteer Bruce Durham about a chance encounter that changed the course of his life on the water, and why the kayaking community has made such a big impact on his life.
Bruce Durham Bruce Durham
Super Volunteer & kayak leader
March 06, 2022
How the Basic Kayaking Course Opened a New World

Life was good since I retired in September of 2015 at 63 years young. In March 2015, I purchased the Mokai: a motorized kayak intended for use on rivers. The Mokai is 11’ Long 36” wide, powered by a 7hp 4-cycle Subaru engine, has an electric start, is a sit in kayak, and is rated for SK-III rapids. I bought to use in Washington rivers for fishing.

I had zero experience kayaking but used to own a Livingston 40hp fourteen-foot fishing boat, so I thought, “How hard can it be on a much smaller kayak?” Since I fished all over the State of Washington, including the Puget Sound, I never paid attention to weather, wind, current, or tide while using the fishing boat.

In January of 2016, I began a journey of getting in shape by swimming at the YMCA in a course called Aqua Bootcamp, where I met James Abair. We talked about my Mokai kayak, discussing the fact that I had no experience in kayaks. He suggested I enroll in The Mountaineers Basic Sea Kayak Course offered in the spring.

What an eye opener. I have never learned so much! I had no idea about what might await by getting in a simple kayak. I had no idea one could do so much in a kayak. I never though going backwards in a kayak was useful. You end up doing it all the time. From backing up from the beach or backing out of a cave, it really comes in useful. Its also amazing the different ways you can get into a kayak from the water. Part of the fun now is getting out of my boat and working with people to get back in or rolling the boat back up by myself.

And fun? Yes, it’s fun! A key thing I learned was that it’s necessary to dress in a manner that protects you from the low temperatures in Puget Sound waters. I was introduced to the Kokatat dry suit. I learned that two layers of long Johns, wool, or polyester, but no cotton ever. Why? Cotton kills.

I also learned that the great cushion I used to put under my butt, called a life jacket and commonly referred to as a PFD (Personal Flotation Device), is better worn rather than sat on. It’s also the law to wear. Your first response when encountering 45-degree water (like the polar plunge) is the uncontrolled urge to open your mouth and gasp. This of course will fill your lungs with water. Dressing for conditions prevents this, and if needed, will let you survive should you be forced to stay in the water for up to 30-minutes.

It’s amazing the places you can go, and experiences that await you. I’ve been in caves on the coast, shallow places that motorboats can’t go. Deception Pass is a blast to play in. Kayaking the Ruston waterfront is a place it seems you will always see something new. Seals that pop their heads up and I swear they say, “What’s up dude.”

Bruce Decpetion Pass.jpgBruce paddling in Deception Pass.

I love leading paddles. I also like to paddle a lot. Routes that are popular and paddled a lot can get old, but not if you find a new approach or a different route within that trip. I love exploring new places as well. The other thing I find gratifying about leading paddles is helping people become more proficient paddlers. I watch all participants and lend a helping hand if I can.  

I’m happy to say I’ve been kayaking for almost six years now with The Mountaineers. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many clinics and was introduced to some very fun paddling. During this time, I became a Sea Kayak Leader and now lead paddles as a volunteer in water all over the State of Washington. 

I’ve met many interesting people and made many new friends in the past few years. Kayaking truly is fun and sometimes stretches your skills. It often leaves me with a smile at the end of the day. And the Mokai? I finally sold it last year as it sat untouched for about 5 years.

Take Tacoma's Basic Sea Kayaking Course

Successful graduates earn a Sea Kayaking Badge, and a badge is needed to paddle with The Mountaineers sea kayak groups going forward. Registration is open now. We look forward to paddling with you!


Lead image of Bruce in his happy place. Photo courtesy of Bruce Durham.

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